Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: The Miracles of Prato

Summary: Italy, 1456. The Renaissance is in glorious bloom, an age of unbridled creativity, commerce, art, and innovation. One of the most colorful men of this astonishing time is Fra Filippo Lippi, equally revered as a painter and reviled as a rogue. A great artist, he serves Cosimo de' Medici and the Catholic Church, creating masterpieces in celebration of God and His glory. A Carmelite monk, he acts as chaplain to the nuns of the Convent Santa Margherita—and it is here, behind the cloister walls, that he encounters the greatest temptation of his life.

Penniless and beautiful, young Lucrezia Buti has been driven to Santa Margherita more by poverty than piety. Mesmerized by Lucrezia's flawless features, Lippi sees in her face the inspiration for countless Madonnas. With the help of his powerful friends and an unscrupulous prioress, he draws upon favors that will lead to dangerous consequences, and brings the young woman to his studio to serve as his model.

Painter and muse are soon united in an exhilarating whirl of artistic discovery. As weeks and months pass, a passionate love develops between the irascible artist and the young nun, resulting in a scandalous romance that threatens to destroy them even as it fuels some of Lippi's greatest work. Their affair sparks anger, envy, and vengeance . . . and it will take a miracle of undying faith, unsurpassed beauty, and unfathomable love to save all that Lippi and Lucrezia cherish.

A gorgeous novel that brings together real and imagined characters from Italy's rich history, The Miracles of Prato is a moving and unforgettable tale of desire and devotion, both sensual and spiritual, set in an extraordinary time and place when beauty, faith, and art were celebrated above all. -- William Morrow

In keeping with my love fest of books that take place in Italy, I just read another terrific one called THE MIRACLES OF PRATO by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz. This book was definitely right up my alley because it was a historical fiction novel that took place during the Renaissance and told the story of a famous painter. I love these types of books -- ones where authors take real-life figures who we know little about and create an entertaining story about them. I so enjoy seeing how the authors come up with stories that fill in those missing details.

I definitely enjoyed reading THE MIRACLES OF PRATO! I feel like I learned a lot of things while also getting to read an entertaining story. But, isn't that why I just love historical fiction? I had never heard of the Sacred Belt of the Virgin Mary, which is today housed in the Cathedral of Prato; and I actually found myself doing a little Internet research on the subject. In addition, I don't know much about many of the Renaissance artists, so I appreciated the incredible descriptions of artwork and cathedrals. I must get to Italy (soon, hopefully) and see all of these things which are described so beautifully in this novel!

I thought the authors did a wonderful job of developing the characters. While there were a few fictitious characters in this novel who were integral to the story, most of the characters were real-life historical figures. I can't even begin to imagine the type of research that must go into writing a novel like THE MIRACLES OF PRATO while staying true to the facts. I also enjoyed reading the authors' note at the end of the book because it gave further details about many of the figures in the novel.

I also appreciated how the authors chose to portray Lippi and Lucrezia. Since there wasn't a huge amount of factual information about them, the authors were able to take the liberty to create their romance as well as an intriguing story about the time they spent together. Lippi was a fascinating man because he was a monk who fell passionately in love with Lucrezia, a young woman who was in training to be a nun. I found him to be quite a "character" and almost comical in the way he kept breaking promises, missing deadlines, and spending his money. I also liked how he painted Lucrezia (his muse) in many of his paintings, and I thought it was especially funny how he incorporated his enemies' faces into his frescoes. Lucrezia was much more likable to me -- a young woman who fell head over heels in love with the older artist; and I was able to sympathize with her a great deal. While their relationship was definitely considered wrong, they held true to their love in spite of the pressures and eventually had two children together.

One thing that I found fascinating about this novel was that it was co-written by two best friends (who also in a book club together.) I can't imagine writing a novel nevertheless writing one with another person, so I am quite impressed with this endeavor. I am actually amazed that this novel was penned by two people because it reads very smoothly and flows extremely well. I think it probably helps that both women are writers who have published books. I'm sure they had an incredible time researching this novel, especially visiting all the paintings and sites in Italy. If you'd like to learn more about their collaboration, check out this interesting interview.

I am definitely going to be recommending THE MIRACLES OF PRATO to all my friends. I also think it would make a great book club discussion book especially if your group enjoys historical fiction like mine does. There is a reading guide available with quite a few stimulating discussion questions. I think it would extremely interesting to discuss the role of women in this time period as well as the importance of "beauty" in this novel. I can also see many groups discussing spirituality and the role of the Catholic Church during this time period.

Thanks to Aurora from William Morrow/Harper Collins for sending me this wonderful book as well as all the interesting articles!


bermudaonion said...

I don't understand how 2 people write a book together and I'm amazed they stayed friends. I've never heard of the Sacred Belt of the Virgin Mary either.

Anonymous said...

I read the book and loved it. It reminded me a little of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. It never ceases to amaze me how women have suffered throughout history.

Karlie said...

I think I would love this one too!

Beth F said...

Super review!! I'm such a HF fan and this sounds perfect.

Passages to the Past said...

Oh wow - that sounds soooo good! Awesome review! Off to add it to my massive wishlist!

Serena said...

fantastic review. i love the idea of a book written by two best friends...and all of these books set in Italy are to die for...ok, I may be a bit obsessed with Italy, where I have never been. Hmmm.

It's always a good sign when the book has you hopping onto the internet to do more research on your own.

Amy said...

Sounds like another good one! I'm always trying to get someone else to write a book with me! I think it would keep me accountable to getting somewhere with it. :)

Melanie said...

I was going to ask how it compares to Girl With a Pearl Earring, but Martha answered my question. I think it will be a good one to suggest to my book club since they loved GWaPE.

Darlene said...

Great review! Yet another one to add to my list.

Anna said...

I've just started really getting into historical fiction, and I haven't yet read anything that takes place during this period. Maybe I'll start with this one. Thanks for the review!

Diary of an Eccentric

S. Krishna said...

Great review! I'm adding this one to my TBR list.